Look deep into the ranks of the unemployed and the underemployed in the nation and you’ll find many who have earned a college degree. Education and degree attainment were supposed to be the gateway to opportunity, the key to career success and satisfaction. Unfortunately, for many, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Add to this number those identified in a recent Society of Human Resource Development (SHRM) job satisfaction study as the 81 percent of Americans reporting overall dissatisfaction with their present employment. That means that 1 in 5 working Americans state openly they don’t like what they’re doing and could be suffering from what I call chronic career disorder (CCD).
CCD is manifested in two ways: the things we “do wrong” and the things we “don’t do,” which are both likely to have a significant impact on our career achievement and emotional well-being. Either can produce harmful results.
In my new book, I address 25 common career errors people make across their lifespan, from their career choice to entry and progression in the workforce to slowdown and retirement.
Practicing good career behaviors will not guarantee positive results, but at least the individual will have done the things that she or he can control. The things one can’t control, however, cannot be minimized as they are likely to result in career roadblocks.
Diversity and inclusion practices have opened countless doors to initial employment, but the absence of those practices in addressing growth and mobility has resulted in career stagnation for far too many. Most affected are women, people of color, the differently able and seniors.
It’s important to recognize that career errors can be traced to identifiable and controllable behaviors—things you need to monitor and manage to ensure your personal career development needs are met. The following are the most common controllable errors:
• You lack quality information. What are you doing to keep abreast of changes in your current and future work and what signals are your antenna picking up about new careers?
• You’re working with inferior tools and behaviors. How sharp are the tools (i.e., résumé, cover letter, etc.) and strategies (i.e., job identification tactics, interview techniques, social media strategies, etc.) that you are using in the exploration, decision-making and job-seeking process?
• You fail to learn from both good and faulty decisions. Are you learning from prior decisions or just crossing your fingers hoping for the best?
• Your timing is atrocious. Choosing a career and finding a job or growing in one’s career should be planned events. What have you done to prepare for, transition into, move about and evaluate the career events of your life?
• You are unsuccessful at managing or controlling the career development process. If you don’t want to be locked into the same position for the next decade, what steps are you taking to grow and advance? If your job were to suddenly disappear (i.e., budget crisis, downsizing, termination, etc.), how equipped are you to recover?
• You lack flexibility and adaptability. Do you possess the ability to be both proactive and reactive? Can you summon the right behavior at the right time?
• You fail to use the people positioned to help you. Professionally trained and credentialed counselors function within the career services department of every college and university to aid students in the transition from college to the workplace. Further, competent recruiters and staffing professionals exist in the private and public sector to help you identify, apply for and transition into and about the world of work. To what extent have you used their services?
One final thing you must consider. You are a growing, maturing and changing character. The woman or man who enters the workforce in their 20s will not be the same in their 40s and may be unrecognizable by the time they reach their 60s. As you change, your career perspectives and expectations must change as well.
The college degree doesn’t make you immune to career mistakes. Errors will not disappear. Albert Einstein once said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” However, many of the errors you will make or have already made will be your best teachers. Learn from them. They will help you rid your life of chronic career disorder.
Dr. Frank Burtnett is a counselor and counselor educator and the author of “Career Errors: Straight Talk about the Steps and Missteps of Career Development,” published recently by the Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.